How to take a writing retreat

First things first, you pack your hiking boots, your books, your laptop and your notebook. Make that two notebooks. Plenty of pens, six pairs of socks, underwear, toothpaste and a toothbrush. Two sweaters, four long-sleeve shirts, four pairs of pants. The readings for your workshop, hot off the printer. Cash you forgot to get cash (you will get that at the airport). You tuck away your fear — fear of dying, fear of heights, fear of rape — in the side pocket, next to your hairbrush. Your unearth your winter hat and gloves, and just in case a pair of snow pants. Add courage alongside your laptop in your carry-on backpack. Make sure you have your chargers. Your suitcase is too heavy; you extract three books.

Last but not least “photo of your family” is on the list and you realize you don’t have an updated one in print. You decide the photos on your phone will suffice. (Note to self: Do *not* lose your phone.) You look at your packing list, most items checked off and a few abandoned (you have a tendency to overpack), and wonder if there is anything else you can take to prepare yourself for the journey. This your first pilgrimage to a destination you’ve dreamed of visiting since you were 20.

You’re traveling solo.

Heading into the dark to meet your airport taxi, you worry that maybe you should have brought your son and husband. You think this as you set your suitcase on the security belt, settle into your window seat, step off the bus in an unfamiliar city.

A day later you’ve arrived. No one knows you (yet), and unpacking your boots, books, laptop and notebooks, you feel the chill of sweat down your spine. You question whether you have the capacity to summon the story inside you. To enter the wilderness on your own.

In the library you find a book of poetry by Christine Valters Paintner. You flip to the middle, her words ring out sharp and strong: “This is a voyage best made alone.” You know what you need to do. You pick up the pen and begin.

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